The landing at Suvla Bay should have been easy. The bay was deep and it was wide – a long, curving coast of sandy beaches and a low plain reaching out to the Anafarta Hills more than two miles away. Nearer the shore were a few gentle hills, hardly high enough to be obstacles, and although there was one possible stumbling-block – a large salt lake that lay just behind the shoreline separated from the bay by a narrow spit of land – it was expected to be dry in summer and there seemed no reason to expect that it would present a problem.
To the south, on the right of Suvla Bay, rose the Sari Bair Ridge – less of a ridge than a succession of razor-edged spurs and peaks, with deep cols and gorges covered in dense scrub. It was wild and untracked country, many times more forbidding than the heights of Anzac beyond it. For obvious reasons, the Sari Bair Ridge was almost undefended, but if it could be grasped at the same time as the landing, while the troops were rushing inland at Suvla Bay, the Turks would be outflanked and their positions at Anzac immediately to the south would rapidly become untenable. It would be a mammoth task, and the only chance of success depended on the element of surprise, for only a madman would imagine that it could possibly be approached by the wild unknown terrain where the western end of the ridge dropped to the sea. But this was the feat that the New Zealanders, backed by some unfortunate newly arrived battalions of Kitchener’s Army, were expected to attempt, marching by night across the cliff-top tracks and gullies to the foot of Sari Bair. Then they were to climb. The force was divided into three columns and it was estimated that by clambering up by different routes they would arrive simultaneously on top of the ridge well before dawn. After that, as they moved forward unseen to capture the height of Chunuk Bair, the worst would be over and by comparison mere fighting would be easy. From the summit of Chunuk Bair in the first light of day they would at last be in sight of the Dardanelles.
The ‘big show’ opened on 6 August with two preliminary attacks.
In the brassy heat of mid-afternoon the 42nd Division attacked at Helles and was cut to pieces by ferocious fire from the Turkish guns. They made little headway, but the Australians leapt forward at Anzac and, fighting as they had never fought before, succeeded in capturing Lone Pine. It was a considerable gain, for the trenches at Lone Pine were at the heart of the Turkish position, the strongest and most formidable of their line, and the Turks fought like demons to hold on. The Aussies held on too, and very soon, when news of the capture reached Turkish headquarters, reserves were sent scurrying away from Suvla, away from Helles, making for Anzac with all possible speed.
But the Australians’ objective was not only to draw off enemy reserves. They were to attack other positions along the Anzac line and, as soon as the British troops had captured the ground at Suvla Bay and the New Zealanders were in possession of Chunuk Bair, they would push ahead, and drive deep into the Turkish defences. Together, and in no time at all, they would be standing triumphant by the waters of the Dardanelles. The fighting and bombing at Lone Pine went on all night, and the position was still precarious, but the Aussies had made a glorious start.
It was a terrible night for the New Zealanders and their progress was cripplingly slow. The effort of climbing precipitous slopes, hacking a way through bush and undergrowth through narrow gorges, scrabbling up rocky heights and pinnacles, negotiating sheer drops, even keeping direction through trackless mountainous terrain, would have been a formidable challenge to skilled mountaineers travelling light and in daytime. But it was pitch dark and the troops were not travelling light. They had no mules, no carts, no means of transporting ammunition, picks and shovels for digging in, plus the vital supplies of food and water and medical supplies that must sustain them, perhaps for days, so in addition to his rifle and pack, each man was carrying a deadly weight. Depending on Greek guides who appeared to be trusting more to luck than to experience, many lost direction in the ‘short cuts’ they proposed and were forced to retrace their weary steps when some tortuous route came to an abrupt end in a cleft too narrow for even a single man to squeeze through. The climb would have taxed the strength of the fittest men. Debilitated as the New Zealanders were by heat and dysentery, it was a wonder that they made it at all.
Not even the men of the Suvla landing force were in fine fettle. They were not yet acclimatised to the enervating heat and even on the offshore islands there was an epidemic of diarrhoea which soon spread to the new arrivals. To cap it all, on the day before the landing large numbers of them had been inoculated against cholera and their arms were stiff and sore as a result. Their Commander, General Sir Frederick Stopford, was also under the weather. The three newly arrived divisions destined for Suvla Bay had been formed into a single new Corps and Sir Ian Hamilton had begged the War Office to supply an experienced senior officer to command it, even going so far as to suggest that General Byng or General Rawlinson would admirably fit the bill. But Byng and Rawlinson were serving in France and invaluable though the experience of either officer would be, Lord Kitchener dismissed out of hand the very idea that they could be spared for months – or even days – on end. And there was another point to be considered. In command of the 10th Division, part of the newly formed IX Corps, was one of the Army’s most senior generals and under no circumstances could Major-General Mahon be expected to take orders from a Corps Commander less senior than himself. It would be an unthinkable breach of etiquette and tradition and not for a moment could Kitchener contemplate such an outrageous idea. A senior man must be appointed, and that was that.
The difficulty was that officers above the rank of Major-General were thin on the ground. Lieutenant-Generals were only one step below Field Marshals, the highest rank in the Army, and only Generals Ewart and Stopford were available for active service – and even they had only been brought out of comfortable retirement by the exigencies of war. The choice had fallen on Sir Frederick Stopford, and although weighed down with honours earned in more than four decades of distinguished service, mostly in staff or administrative posts, Stopford’s experience of soldiering in the field was negligible. He had never led troops into battle, he had never commanded so much as a battalion in an engagement, he was sixty-one years old, and his health was indifferent. But there was no one else. On the eve of the landing at Suvla Bay General Stopford was not a happy man. He had sprained his knee that morning and the Staff Officer sent by Sir Ian Hamilton to ensure that his instructions were understood was startled to find the General lying down in his tent and disturbed by his frankly expressed forebodings. The optimism with which Stopford had originally greeted the Suvla plan had evaporated in the days of waiting and reflection. He was worried in particular by the paucity of artillery support he could expect, for as it dashed inland, the IX Corps was to secure positions for its own guns which would only begin to land when they were consolidated, and although he was reminded that the guns of the warships would be covering the landings Stopford was not reassured. He dwelt on the fact that experience in France had shown that strong trench systems could only be attacked with the help of large numbers of Howitzers, and was doubtful of the assurance that on the evidence of reconnaissance aircraft no such systems existed, and although it was stressed and stressed again that everything depended on rapid advance to attain the inland heights before the Turks could bring in reinforcements, Stopford doubted that the prowess of the New Army men was up to securing the beach-head in the dark, let alone advancing to seize the first vital positions. Assured that the opposition could not possibly amount to more than five battalions. Stopford doubted the accuracy of the estimate. Finally he said, ‘Tell Sir Ian Hamilton that I am going to do my best, and that I hope to be successful. But he must realise that if the enemy proves to be holding a strong line of continuous entrenchments I shall be unable to dislodge him until more guns are landed.’ It was a bad beginning and, with hindsight, the outcome was inevitable.
A little after 9.30 that evening the first contingent of the main force landed at Suvla Bay. By ten o’clock four battalions were ashore and more were on the way. A single rifle shot from the shore had struck one lighter and an unfortunate naval rating was the only casualty. A short way to the north two Yorkshire battalions advanced in the dark and, at far greater cost, captured the main Turkish garrison on the hill of Lala Baba. But there the advance came to a halt.
In the long bitter aftermath of the failed Gallipoli campaign the Anzacs could hardly be blamed for thinking they had been let down, and the impression took deeper root as the decades passed. More than seventy years on, the film Gallipoli told the story of just one of the tragic happenings on the fatal morning of 7 August. The framework of the plot was fictional and one-sided but in essence and in all its stark reality it was true, and it came to epitomise the whole desperate endeavour – the microcosm of the Australians’ sacrifice on Gallipoli.
The attack at the Nek should have been a minor operation. It was such a narrow causeway of land to cross, only sixty yards at its widest, and it guarded the hill they called Baby 700, a position so strong that a lone assault could not possibly succeed. But in conjunction with a converging attack by the New Zealanders at Chunuk Bair it stood a good chance of success and if together the Anzacs could pull it off, the summit of the Sari Bair Ridge would be in their hands. Both forces were to attack simultaneously at dawn, and long before then the New Zealanders would have captured Chunuk Bair. But by dawn few of the New Zealanders had managed even to reach the assembly position, those who had were waiting for the others still struggling up the slopes and it would be many hours before the last of them arrived and the assault on Chunuk Bair could begin.
But the attack, which was destined to be fruitless and in the circumstances pointless, was nevertheless ordered to proceed. Three separate waves went over the top into the maw of the Turkish rifles and machine-guns. The force was all but annihilated.
The rattle and thunder of the deathly fire that slaughtered the Australians ripped across the pinnacles of Sari Bair. Marking time on Rhododendron Ridge, glad of the respite after their laborious climb, the New Zealanders listened and wondered as they rested and waited for the late arrivals and the long-awaited signal to advance, and, chafing at the delay, General Johnston wondered more than anyone if the attack which he himself should have supported could possibly have gone ahead without him. On the spur itself everything was peaceful. A short distance ahead, just beyond two more spurs and dips, the tantalising slopes of Chunuk Bair stood out against the sun as it climbed into the eastern sky. All was quiet. Two hours passed. At 6.30 Johnston decided to wait no longer and led his troops forward some five hundred yards to the rocky hillock at the apex of Rhododendron Ridge. They were met by a few shots from the main ridge and halted again. From the apex they were looking down on their left to Suvla, and on their right they could see the Nek where, on a tiny patch of ground no larger than two tennis courts, the morning sun burned down on the bodies of more than six hundred Australian soldiers, lying so motionless and so at one with the earth that to the New Zealanders on their vantage point the Nek seemed to slumber undisturbed in the sun. General Johnston’s Brigade Major scanned the view through binoculars and was deeply impressed: ‘The situation as seen from the Apex was intensely interesting and indeed astonishing. Looking down towards Anzac all was quiet. At the Nek and Baby 700 not a shot was being fired. Above us we could see the trenches on Chunuk Bair bristling with rifles, and a certain amount of rifle fire was coming from that direction. On Hill Q all was quiet. There was no sign of the Indian Brigade or the 4th Australian Brigade. Away at Suvla the bay was a mass of shipping. Some men could be seen on the beaches walking about freely. Peace seemed to reign everywhere.’
Peace certainly reigned at Suvla. It was 9.30 in the morning. The first troops had landed twelve hours earlier, many more had arrived in the course of the night, and more still were now making for the beaches, but not much was happening and the worst of it was that no one, least of all the troops, seemed to know what was meant to be happening.
Spr. J. Johnston, 44th (Welsh) Field Coy., RE, 53rd (Welsh) Div.
We were loaded into small boats and rowed towards the shores of Suvla Bay where we had to wade ashore for about sixty yards as the boats couldn’t get in any nearer owing to the shallow water. In parts there was a lot of loose barbed wire which had been thrown there by the Turks to impede any landing, however we managed to get ashore about 5.45 a.m. and there were so many boats that we were told to move away as quickly as possible. The Turks had spotted the landing and opened up with shrapnel shell-fire, but we were fortunate to have been in the first boats and had travelled about two hundred yards inland, so the shrapnel shells went right over us towards the beach. This was our baptism of fire and we were all scared out of our wits, and as there were quite a lot of rocks near us we took what cover we could find until the firing slackened off. Then we began to look around for our officers for further orders, but there were no officers near us. It appeared that they had been landed further over from A beach. It was more than six hours before we were able to meet any of them, however like a lot of inquisitive war recruits that knew nothing about war, we went forward to see what was further on. When we had gone about three-quarters of a mile the heat was unbearable and we were thirsty. Then we saw a padre coming towards us with about two dozen water bottles over his shoulder. He was making for the beach to get water for the troops who were ahead of us. He was the padre of the 5th Welsh and generally known as ‘Dai 5 Welsh’. He advised us to make for Hill 10 as there were troops gathering there, however when we reached there we were advised to make for Hill 20 as it was considered there were too many troops in one place and we would be a target for the Turkish gunners if we were spotted, so off to Hill 20 we went. We hung around all day waiting for orders. No one told us what to do, so we stopped there all night.
On board the destroyer Jonquil where he had slept all night on deck, General Stopford was as ignorant as anyone of the situation ashore and he was certainly in no position to influence events. It had been his intention to land with the troops and set up his Headquarters ashore but he had changed his mind and elected to stay on board – perhaps because of his injured knee, perhaps because he imagined that from the Jonquil he would obtain a more coordinated view. Either way it was a fatal mistake. Only half his staff was on board, the ship was not equipped for communication and small boats which might have carried messages to and from the shore were so scarce that it took one officer, desperate to discuss the situation with his Commander on board the Jonquil, six hours before he could find a vessel available to make the journey. As for Stopford himself, for all he knew of the situation he might as well have stayed on Lemnos. According to the single message which he succeeded in transmitting to GHQ he was satisfied that the troops had landed, adding with no hint of dismay that they had been unable to progress far beyond the beach. Its complacent tone did little to allay the anxiety of Sir Ian Hamilton, although he was comforted by the assumption that the message had been long delayed and merely described the situation early in the morning of the 7th. But as the hours passed and no news of further progress reached him, his anxiety deepened for he had heard from other sources that opposition at Suvla had been slight and he was desperate for confirmation that the troops had advanced and seized the Anafarta Hills. The fact was that they had hardly advanced at all.
Spr. J. Johnston.
Presently next morning the word came over from someone who appeared to be in charge with orders saying ‘Do not retire, stay and dig trenches for yourselves where you are, and hold them as long as possible,’ so after a while we were down in a trench deep enough to afford us some cover. This was done with our entrenching tools, because the picks and shovels had been landed with our tool carts elsewhere! Then we dug towards the others on each end of us and connected up the trenches together. Soon after we had finished a couple of our company officers arrived and took over. At about midnight that night we were told to fall in and form ranks, and we marched under cover of darkness over to a place called Lala Baba where we started again digging trenches. We had come about one and a half miles or so along the edge of the Salt Lake which was a dry bed at the time. We were soon put to work again setting up barbed wire entanglements there, and afterwards at Chocolate Hill.
The order to ‘dig in’ had not come from Sir Ian Hamilton and it was the last thing he intended, especially in the light of the disturbing news brought back by a reconnaissance aircraft. Strong columns of Turkish reinforcements had been spotted marching towards Suvla from Bulair. It would be some hours before they got there, and there was still time for the troops to advance – but it was fast running out. The previous afternoon a message from Hamilton had urged Stopford to ‘Push on rapidly’ and to ‘Take every advantage before you are forestalled,’ but it had been couched in terms of such tentative encouragement that it might easily have been read as an expression of Hamilton’s confidence in his Corps Commander rather than a direct order from the man at the top. Not for the firsttime in Hamilton’s dealings with subordinates his characteristic gentle courtesy had betrayed him in a crisis which demanded overt bluntness and resolution.
A second laconic message received next morning, 8 August, revealed with horrifying clarity that General Stopford’s imagination had stopped short at achieving the landing itself and that, contrary to the evidence, it was still inflamed by the belief that rows of trenches bristling with hostile troops stood in the path of an advance. Stopford had even taken the trouble to send a message of congratulation to the troops on their achievement so far, and he was in high spirits when he met Colonel Aspinall on the deck of theJonquil. Aspinall, the main architect of the plan, had gone to Suvla to assess the situation at the urgent request of the commander-in-chief. ‘Well, Aspinall,’ beamed General Stopford as they shook hands, ‘the men have done splendidly and been magnificent.’ Aspinall was taken aback. ‘But they haven’t reached the hills, sir,’ he demurred. ‘No,’ replied Stopford, ‘but they are ashore!’ Aspinall never forgot the conversation and two years later, giving evidence to the Dardanelles Commission, he did not hesitate to report it verbatim. All his urging, all his reminders of the necessity for speed, all his arguments for an immediate advance were brushed aside by General Stopford. He answered with some complacency that he was well aware of the situation, but until the men were rested and more guns and supplies were landed it was quite impossible to move. He added soothingly that he had every intention of ordering a fresh advance next day. Next day, and Aspinall knew it, would be a day too late. He had already been ashore with Sir Maurice Hankey and they had found a doleful state of affairs.
Col. Sir Maurice Hankey.
A peaceful scene greeted us. Hardly any shells. No Turks. Very occasional musketry. Bathing parties round the shore. There really seemed to be no realisation of the overwhelming necessities for a rapid offensive, of the tremendous issues depending on the next few hours. One staff officer told me how splendidly the troops were behaving, and showed me the position where they were entrenching! Another remarked sententiously that it was impossible to attack an entrenched position without a strong artillery, and this was not yet available. As an irresponsible critic I do not want to be hard, and I do want to recognise the very real difficulties, but I must confess I was filled with dismay, as was the General Staff man whom I accompanied. It was a delicate situation. His message to Sir Ian had to be sent through the Corps Commander, and it was difficult for him to send an adequate message. We solved the difficulty by doing it through the Vice-Admiral, who was luckily in port!
The message sent by wireless from Admiral Roebuck’s flagship read: ‘Just been ashore, where I found all quiet. No rifle fire, no artillery fire, and apparently no Turks. IX Corps resting. Feel confident that golden opportunities are being lost and look upon the situation as serious.’
Col. Sir Maurice Hankey.
What distressed me even more was the whole attitude of the division. The staff of the division and corps were settling themselves in dug-outs. The pioneers, who should have been making rough roads for the advance of the artillery and supply wagons soon to be landed, were engaged on a great entrenchment from the head of the bay over the hills to the sea ‘to protect headquarters’. It looked as though this accursed trench warfare in France had sunk so deep into our military system that all idea of the offensive had been killed.
‘You seem to be making yourselves snug,’ I said to a staff officer. ‘Are you not going to get a move on?’ ‘We expect to be here a long time,’ was his reply.
The trouble is it is so difficult to do anything. One could only report to Sir Ian and to his Chief of Staff. It took hours to poke round and find all this out. It took hours to get a boat, and I was not back at Kephalos until 11 p.m.
The soldiers of the Suvla force, the Kitchener’s men newly out from England, were equally at a loss. They had done well. They had not been rattled under haphazard shrapnel shelling, they had suffered many casualties, almost entirely due to overcrowding behind the beaches and the failure of the force to fan out, and they had suffered them stoically. They were keen to do well, but they could not advance without orders. In the innocence of their inexperience it was not up to them to reason why, but many of them wondered. Colonel Rettie who, as Commander of a brigade of guns, had rather more experience and did not hesitate to express an opinion, had spent two frustrating days aboard the destroyer Minneapolis before lighters arrived to take his guns ashore in the afternoon of 8 August.
Lt. Col. W. J. K. Rettie, 59 Brig., RFA.
At last we were told we might start disembarking… I was struck by the restfulness of all around. There appeared to be little going on – a good many infantry sitting about or having a bathe. The impression conveyed to my mind was that of a ‘stand-fast’ at some field day. Having located the Commander, Royal Artillery, on the beach near Lala Baba I was told to bring the batteries into action under cover of that hillock. This was rather a shock, as we had at least expected to go forward to Chocolate Hill. On expressing surprise, and asking what we were waiting for, I was met with the grim reply: ‘For the Turks to reinforce!’ And so it proved!
When Colonel Rettie finally did move forward with his guns to Chocolate Hill, he found the Brigadier conferring with his Staff Officers. They sat with maps spread out, quite at ease on the open ground. There was no need to take cover.
Lt. Col. W. J. K. Rettie.
There was no firing, beyond an occasional shot from a sniper somewhere, and the sensation of a pause in a field day still prevailed. I was plied with queries as to how things were progressing on the beach, and when we were likely to get a move on – a question I could not answer.
It was a question which has not been answered to this day, and the line has not yet been drawn beneath the final account. The blame has been laid on many shoulders, but the truth that shines through the continuing post-mortems is that it could not be laid on the shoulders of the troops. They had done their best, they had done their duty and many of them died in the doing of it. Golden opportunities had indeed been missed. By the New Zealanders, whose long wait had enabled Turkish reinforcements to reach Chunuk Bair in time to deny them more than a foothold on its slopes. By Kitchener’s men at Suvla, thwarted less by the enemy than by the pusillanimous leadership of their own command. Where minutes had counted hours had been frittered away and although the fighting battered on, the seeds of failure had been sown. They had germinated in the lack of coherent orders, in fatal delays and stultifying inaction, in pointless sacrifice and lack of resolve. The ‘big show’ conceived and planned as a coordinated effort had devolved into three independent battles. It could have succeeded, but it had failed – and it was the death-knell of the grand Gallipoli strategy. Suvla had finished it. As Sir Ian Hamilton would later point out, just as no one would think of pouring new wine into old bottles, the combination of ‘old Generals and new troops’ was fatal. In the face of much vilification Hamilton kept his dignity and his gentlemanly reserve.
General Stopford was less restrained. In mid-August when he was relieved of his command he embarked on a campaign in which self-justification and vilification of Hamilton played a large part. It hardly mattered now.
Sir Maurice Hankey returned to London saddened and depressed to make his official report.
Col. Sir Maurice Hankey.
It was not without a pang of regret that I bade farewell to de Robeck, Ian Hamilton and my many friends at the Dardanelles. In leaving these brave men marooned on the desolate, sunbaked shores of the peninsula amid squalor, heat and the torment of innumerable flies, with death staring them in the face day and night, encompassed by difficulties, behind them failure, before them the haunting vision of a winter campaign, or the alternative of evacuation, which even the most sanguine anticipated must be a shambles, I felt no small compunction in returning to the comfort of England and home. I also felt a grave responsibility about the report I had to make to the Prime Minister.
But the news had travelled ahead of him and, with the failure of the venture on which so much had depended, a strong body of opinion was already opposed to continuing operations in the Dardanelles. The dilemma that faced the Cabinet was how best to cut their losses without prejudicing British prestige and how best to help the Russians, staggering on the eastern front under the weight of a German army that was steadily pushing them back. The Dardanelles campaign had been partly designed to tempt Bulgaria into the camp of the allies, and now Bulgaria’s position haunted the deliberations of the Cabinet. It seemed more and more likely now that she would soon throw in her lot with their enemies. Serbia was already fighting Austria on one front. If Bulgaria went to war and attacked her by the back door Serbia would surely be crushed and men, guns and quantities of ammunition would soon be pouring along a through-route from Germany to Turkey. Even apart from the dire consequences this would have for Russia, the allies would then be ignominiously shelled off the peninsula. The political considerations that had given birth to the Dardanelles campaign were more important than ever, and few but Sir Ian Hamilton clung to a thread of hope that a victory on Gallipoli was still possible. Pending a final decision and in the face of some opposition Kitchener decided to dispatch the fifty thousand reinforcements Hamilton requested, with the thought at the back of his mind that, if necessary and as policy developed, they could be used elsewhere in the Mediterranean to assist Serbia.
The slender hope that fortune might eventually smile on the allies at Gallipoli was slender indeed and, at best, a matter of ‘jam tomorrow’. The immediate and most urgent need was to relieve the pressure on Russia and this, in Kitchener’s view, could only be done by a new offensive in France on a scale large enough to force the Germans to weaken their army in the east by rushing large numbers of their troops to the western front. Reluctant though he had been to commit his troops to any major battles in the near future, there was now no alternative. Kitchener felt sure that the French would be only too happy to cooperate.
The troops on Gallipoli knew nothing of these developments. The fighting had quietened down. August scorched on. But at last there was blessed relief for some – a whole month’s leave for part of the Anzac force when reinforcements from Egypt took over the line and they were whisked off to the islands to rest and recuperate. The rest camps bore little resemblance to holiday resorts. They were almost as arid and fly-ridden as the peninsula, but there was half-decent food, there was water in abundance, best of all there was beer, and although of necessity there were drills and parades they were kept to a minimum. The weary soldiers could sleep undisturbed in the furnace of mid-day, they could bathe in the blue waters of the Aegean without being shelled, they could play cricket or football when the heat lessened towards evening, and at the end of the day they could lounge yarning and singing in the starlight. But day after day the distant rumble of guns firing on the peninsula brought a grim reminder that this was a fleeting respite, and some soldier had time to compose the parody that summed up the general feeling. It was sung to the familiar tune of The Mountains of Mourne’ and soon it became their anthem:
Oh, old Gallipoli’s a wonderful place,
Where the boys in the trenches the foe have to face,
But they never grumble, they smile through it all,
Very soon they expect Achi Baba to fall.
At least when I asked them, that’s what they told me
In Constantinople quite soon we would be,
But if war lasts till Doomsday I think we’ll still be
Where the old Gallipoli sweeps down to the sea.
Verse followed verse and since everyone had a go at adding one, soon almost as many versions as there were battalions were being sung at impromptu concerts. The Scots of the 6th HLI contributed the verse that expressed the basic, unsentimental longing at the forefront of every soldier’s mind.
We don’t grow potatoes or barley or wheat,
So we’re aye on the lookout for something to eat,
We’re fed up with biscuits and bully and ham
And we’re sick of the sight of yon parapet jam.
Send out steak and onions and nice ham and eggs
And a fine big fat chicken with five or six legs,
And a drink of the stuff that begins with a ‘B’
Where the old Gallipoli sweeps down to the sea.
They had some hopes! Soon their holiday would be over, soon they would be returning to the peninsula, to the interminable diet of thirst-provoking bully beef and the sweat and grind of life – or death – in the trenches.
Birds were seldom seen on Gallipoli, but towards the end of August, to the astonishment of the men, large flocks of birds swooped through the sky above the peninsula, migrating from the chilly steppes of Russia to winter in the south. The searing heat showed no signs of abating, but the birds brought a salutary reminder that time was passing, that another season was on the way and that, despite their valiant efforts, they had advanced very little since they had landed in the spring. But it had not been for want of trying.